Guest Post. Written By Karl Matchett.
Barcelona started the 2015-16 season in the best way possible, adding the UEFA Super Cup to last year's treble success and fuelling dreams of a six-pronged celebration as the new campaign continued. Athletic Bilbao soon put paid to those hopes by beating the Catalan side in the Spanish Super Cup, but of more pressing concern to Barcelona's longer-term plans for trophies would have been the incessant injury worries which began to decimate manager Luis Enrique's first team.
As if the injuries alone weren't bad enough, the late sale of Pedro to Chelsea meant attacking options in particular were thin on the ground with BarÃ§a not able to register new signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal until January due to the FIFA-imposed two-window transfer ban.
When the long-term injury to Rafinha also struck, it was no surprise to see Barcelona act. A Spanish Liga ruling which allows teams to register players outside of the usual periods was acted upon, but football's governing body refused to budge. Turan, whose versatility as well as quality could make a big difference to Barcelona's rotation options, remains unavailable.
Worse still was to follow: Lionel Messi left the field injured against Las Palmas and faces a race to be back fit for el clasico in late November. Without the majestic No. 10, the team is somewhat less assured of victory, is far less unpredictable in changing the speed of the game and is certainly more reliant on unproven youngsters, with Sandro Ramirez and Munir timesharing a role in Messi's absence.
Barcelona's desperation for proven bodies to call upon will see them push the case to include Turan in their squad all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. CAS have the power to overrule FIFA, who the club feel are prolonging unnecessary punishment given the two transfer windows have officially passed now.
FIFA's involvement in Barcelona's plans in attack might not stop there.
Despite being involved in a huge scandal themselves as one high-ranking official after another is placed under suspension and investigated for wrong-doing on multiple counts, FIFA still have to oversee external influences on the game. Brazilian club Santos have now appealed to the powers of the sport to ban their former forward and current Barcelona No. 11, Neymar, for six months due to breach of contract. The Neymar transfer has been a horribly public ordeal for all involved since the Brazil captain switched to La Liga in 2013, with questions and accusations over taxes, commissions paid and third-party holdings.
Shorn of one-third of their MSN strikeforce and lacking replacements in the squad, the last thing Barcelona need is for administrative issues to cost them even further.
Meanwhile, the middle prong of that attacking troika, Luis Suarez, is still searching for his own top levels of form and fitness. The Uruguayan is still banned from international football so has had two weeks of recuperation time while his team mates jetted off to represent their countries, but he alone cannot possibly hope to sustain Barcelona's interest in retaining La Liga title. Suarez will be one of the players likely to be called upon to play almost every match between now and the winter break, which will include the Club World Cup in December.
Unless FIFA relent, though, or CAS overrules them, Suarez will have the dual role of scoring and creating for the team; not an issue in itself as he's capable, on a technical level, of doing so-but the Barcelona style means the front three are largely responsible for final-third end product. There are few runners from midfield, especially with Rafinha out, and neither Sandro nor Munir have yet managed to find the net this season.
The realistic best case scenario for Barcelona at this point, even if Turan is suddenly and unexpectedly allowed to be involved, is to progress in the Champions League to the knockouts and focus their attentions on retaining that trophy in the second half of the season. It's hugely likely that their Liga points tally will take a hit at some point, being dependent on so few players in so many matches, that one of the Madrid teams might well open up an unassailable gap before January.
Luis Enrique can't afford to let the possibility, or indeed the reality once it happens, become an issue for his team-even if it means conceding that particular title this term. Getting through this season by being the first club to retain the Champions League trophy, while it will seem to the club that the very head of the sport itself is against them, would still be a remarkable return.
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FIFA could Make or Break Barcelona's Attackand their Season
Guest Post. Written By Karl Matchett.